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On board the
peace train

On board the
peace train

Peacegames

The national nonprofit group Peace Games teaches students how to stop name-calling and resolve conflicts peacefully--and respect for gays and lesbians is an equal part of the curriculum.

"It's comical at first when you see a third-grader yank a ball out of someone's hand and another kid comes along and says, 'Hey, let's de-escalate that,' " says Richard Cardillo, New York regional director of Peace Games. But thanks to his organization--which teaches conflict resolution and diversity awareness to students in grades K-8 at schools in New York City, Chicago, the Boston and Los Angeles metro areas, and Fairbanks, Alaska--fights that might otherwise turn ugly are indeed "de-escalated." Instead of beating each other up or hurling hurtful slurs, kids learn to work out their differences without resorting to violence.

"What Peace Games wants to do is give these kids a tool belt to be an active peacemaker--making your voice heard for what's right," says Cardillo, who is gay. "So often in our society, when we talk about kids we talk about them in two different roles: either the victims or perpetrators. What Peace Games does is say, no, they can be the change agents in our society for good."

A response to escalating youth violence in the early 1990s, Peace Games was conceived by children's literature scholar Francelia Butler as a one-day festival in Boston. A fifth-grade curriculum was soon developed at Harvard University's Phillips Brooks House Association, and from there it expanded by grade level and around the country.

At schools that use Peace Games, students participate in weekly one-hour classes, the first semester devoted to lessons, and the second to a community service project. The sessions are led by college-age volunteers or Peace Games regional staffers such as Cardillo, who teaches a fourth-grade class at New York City's P.S. 87.

Topics include tolerance of LGBT individuals and appreciation of diversity, with lesson titles like "I Am Special Because I'm Different," "Inclusion/Exclusion," and "Celebrating Differences." "We deal with certain situations, like someone being made fun of because they're gay," says Cardillo. "We look at gender. What does it mean to be a woman? A gay woman? How do you fit that image? And stereotyping."

Cardillo, 48, joined Peace Games in October 2005 after stints as a teacher and as director of client services for the New York City organization God's Love We Deliver, which provides meals to people living with AIDS and other serious illnesses. I meet him one day outside Manhattan's P.S. 191 on the Upper West Side, one of the city's most ethnically mixed public schools. We join a seventh-grade Peace Games class in its first minutes, when students are allowed to ask three questions of their instructors. Gay instructors are free to speak openly about themselves, and Cardillo has occasionally referred to his partner during sessions.

Then the students work on an antismoking commercial they're producing for their community service project. The discussion is lively and interactive, and the kids display both enthusiasm and admirable order and respect--even the lanky class clown and a sassy, petite girl who unleashes a curt "Excuse me!" at anyone who interrupts her.

Since Peace Games came to P.S. 191 almost two years ago, the results have been noticeable to parents and teachers alike. "My son is more talkative now," says Kay, a 46-year-old parent of a sixth-grader. Sitting in the school's small spearmint-green Peace Games office--one of four currently operating in New York City schools--she comes across as both impressed and relieved. "My son's been here since pre-K, and I've seen the change as soon as Peace Games came in," Kay says. "The kids started expressing themselves with words instead of their hands and talking loud and being obnoxious. At the beginning of other years there was always a fight. This year as soon as school started everything went smoother."

Later two teenagers enter the office. I ask them about how Peace Games' lessons addressing gays and homophobia are met by their peers. Jay, 13, says, "They just started laughing when the Peace Games leaders were there. But then they began to get more civilized and started talking seriously."

"People who you think would say 'I'd hit them,' they were like, 'I'd be cool. As long as they don't try anything with me, I'm fine,' " says eighth-grader Penelope. "They would make comments like, 'I'm cool with them; I wouldn't hit them just because they're gay or whatever.'

"Personally, I have a lot of gay, lesbian, bi friends," Penelope adds. "A couple of them from out of state say they get picked on sometimes and called names. I tell them about Peace Games and they're like, 'Yo, I wish I was in New York and in your school! I doubt any of this would be happening.' "

Advocate Magazine - KehlaniAdvocate Magazine - Gus Kenworthy

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